Treatment of Lymphatic Filariasis

Key points

  • There is a prescription medication that kills the parasitic worm that causes lymphatic filariasis.
  • This medication does not treat lymphedema or elephantiasis.
  • Hydrocele may require surgery.

Treatment overview

The usual treatment for lymphatic filariasis is a drug called diethylcarbamazine (DEC), which kills both immature and adult parasitic worms. Your healthcare provider may recommend either a single-day treatment or taking the drug for 12 days.

The most common side effects of DEC include

  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Pain in muscles or joints

DEC has been used globally for more than 50 years. However, because lymphatic filariasis is rare in the United States, the drug is no longer approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Healthcare providers can get this drug from CDC, after a confirmed positive lab test.

DEC may not help people who have lymphedema or elephantiasis, as most people with these symptoms no longer have live parasites in their bodies. Your healthcare provider might refer you to a lymphedema therapist to help manage your condition. This includes learning how to keep the affected area clean, exercise, elevation, treatment of wounds and infections, and using appropriate footwear. If you have hydrocele, your healthcare provider might recommend surgery to remove the fluid-filled swelling.

What not to do

If you also have onchocerciasis or loaisis (Loa loa), also caused by parasitic worms, taking DEC might cause serious side effects. In that case, your healthcare provider might recommend other drugs. If you think you have either of these infections or are unsure, speak with your healthcare provider.